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Protecting and improving the natural environment

Explore the benefits highlighted in our Waterways for Today report

Waterway projects can protect and improve the natural environment.

They are blue-green corridors that allow opportunities for reconnecting disparate habitats, biodiversity net gain and improvements for wildlife.

How Waterways Can Help

Our waterways are blue-green corridors that play a vital role in reconnecting disparate habitats, enabling biodiversity net gain and providing wider environmental benefits through habitat creation and improvement.

The offside banks of canals and rivers offer largely undisturbed homes for wildlife to flourish, while at the same time providing opportunities for people to see plants, insects and birds that they wouldn’t normally experience in an urban environment.

Our waterways accommodate many protected species, including water voles, otters, native crayfish and rare aquatic plants. Strategies being developed all over the country will enhance and restore habitats located on or near waterways and improve the ecological connectivity between them.

The Environment Act 2021 requires most development schemes in England to deliver a biodiversity net gain of at least 10% and for this to be maintained for at least 30 years. Local authorities and developers should consider local waterways, whether navigable or restoration projects, as off-site locations for biodiversity credits where a developer cannot achieve the target on their own site.

It is important to note that while managed waterways can boost biodiversity, the water quality of our rivers and canals must be improved, by upholding and enhancing legislation, for wildlife to flourish.


I have been lucky enough to explore the joy of waterways all across Great Britain and they remain one of the great hidden assets
of this country. People swim, drink, float, fish and sometimes just marvel at them. But I am shocked by what terrible custodians we have become of this great resource. We need awareness and we need support for this hidden glory before it is too late.

Griff Rhys Jones, actor & comedian

Case Study: Canal Park
improves Biodiversity

In 2019, the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust initiated a major project to improve the biodiversity along the line of its canal, including the 4-acre Shrivenham Canal Park it owns.

The project aims to establish the park, which is adjacent to the canal, as a community and environmental asset. It hopes to increase the number and type of habitats to attract species back into the park, while implementing a maintenance strategy that preserves and encourages biodiversity gains. Visitors will learn about biodiversity and habitat creation through community engagement events.

The work was supported with a £14,000 grant from IWA, which enabled studies of the flora and fauna, and plans to be drawn up. Among steps taken to improve biodiversity in the park are leaving areas of longer grass, sowing wildflowers and planting for species attraction, bird and bat boxes, bug “hotels”, habitat refuges within the copse, sanctuary zones and natural fencing.

Information panels, signage and seating will all help to make the park a place people want to visit. A key feature will also include re-watering the 125-metre section of canal, enabling canoes and paddleboards to be launched from the existing slipway.

This project is a small part of the long-term plan for the eventual reopening of the 70-mile canal across Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.


Facts & Stats

In 2007 the Inland Waterways Amenity Council concluded that built waterways make an important contribution to biodiversity, and to aquatic wildlife in particular.

More recently, an international study published in November 2020 found that “historic canals have the potential to contribute to both cultural heritage and biodiversity conservation”.

Navigable inland waterways are home to over 100 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

More than 1000 waterway-based county wildlife sites are an integral part of the UK’s Nature Recovery Network.

Habitat creation (aquatic, land-based and aerial), improvement of wetland habitats, management of reed beds and installing new fish passes can all contribute to biodiversity net gain.